Institute News

Inside IWitness: "Information Quest: Helen Fagin"

Inside IWitness is an ongoing series that will profile each activity in IWitness, along with a clip featured in the activity and a teacher who uses IWitness in his or her classroom.

Students learn the fascinating story of Helen Fagin, who survived the Holocaust running a clandestine school, living under a false identity and even escaping deportation, in this Information Quest.

A brief biography of Helen reveals that she was born in Radomsko, Poland, and was the middle of three sisters. Before the war broke out, she experienced anti-Semitism at Jagellonian University. The Jews were forced into a ghetto in Radomsko and forbidden from going to school, but Helen taught her younger sister and other children in secret and read to them from Gone With the Wind. Though their parents were taken away on a raid, Helen and her sisters managed to hide, and later Helen escaped from deportation when the ghetto was liquidated. She and her sisters secured false papers for themselves from the underground, which kept them alive until liberation.

Helen immigrated to the United States, taught herself English, and eventually became a professor at the University of Miami. President Clinton invited her to serve on the advisory board for the World War II memorial in Washington, D.C.

After becoming acquainted with Helen’s biography, students choose to watch one of seven clips about specific aspects of Helen’s survival, including Flight Preparations, Deportation Escapes, and Migration Assistance. From the clip they choose, they create a word cloud featuring the clip’s themes, people, places, emotions and other aspects that stand out to them. Students share their word clouds with each other and comment on each other’s work.